Did the Renewable Fuel Standard Shift Market Expectations of the Price of Ethanol?
It is commonly believed that the response of the price of corn ethanol (and hence of the price of corn) to shifts in biofuel policies operates in part through market expectations and shifts in storage demand, yet to date it has proved difficult to measure these expectations and to empirically evaluate this view. We utilize a recently proposed methodology to estimate the market’s expectations of the prices of ethanol, unfinished motor gasoline and crude oil at horizons from three months to one year. We quantify the extent to which price changes were anticipated by the market, the extent to which they were unanticipated, and how the risk premium in these markets has evolved. We show that the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is likely to have increased ethanol price expectations by as much as $1.50 in the year before and in the year after the implementation of the RFS had started. Our analysis of the term structure of expectations supports the view that a shift in ethanol storage demand starting in 2005 caused an increase in the price of ethanol. There is no conclusive evidence that the tightening of the RFS in 2008 shifted market expectations, but our analysis suggests that policy uncertainty about how to deal with the blend wall raised the risk premium in the ethanol futures market in mid-2013 by as much as 50 cents at longer horizons. Finally, we present evidence against a tight link from ethanol price expectations to corn price expectations and hence to storage demand for corn in 2005-06.